On Friday, November 2, 2012, the Kennedy Space Center launch facilities were left without an orbiter in the program for the first time since 1979.
At 6:30am, Atlantis began her 9.8 mile journey from the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to her new permanent home at the KSC Visitors Center just outside the secure KSC launch facilities. As she rolled out of the VAB for her last mission, she was greeted by members of the team that had cared for Atlantis over the years since being put into commission in April 1985.
There was a palpable sadness in the air — from the Atlantis team that had put so much of their lives into the orbiter; to the press corps that have covered the shuttle missions over the years; as well as the KSC and USA staff involved in so many launches and landings of the beautiful spacecraft.
One Atlantis team member recited this fitting saying, often attributed to Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because it happened.” It set the mood perfectly in the chilly predawn morning as they watched Atlantis leaving her working facilities for the final time. The workers, some who have already lost their jobs as shuttle operations ended, carried a banner that read “We Made History – Atlantis” as they walked behind the orbiter.
Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly in space, rode atop 76 wheels on the Orbiter Transporter System (OTS) for her final journey, with a top speed of only 2 miles per hour. The orbiter weight was 154,000 lbs., and with the transporter, the combined vehicles weighed well over 300,000 lbs. as they made their way on the roads from the VAB to the Visitors Center. In order to avoid having obstacles in the way of her move, 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals, and 56 traffic signs had to be removed to ensure a clear path during transport.